Fiberoptic bronchoscopy; Lung cancer - bronchoscopy; Pneumonia - bronchoscopy; Chronic lung disease - bronchoscopy
Bronchoscopy is a test to view the airways and diagnose lung disease. It may also be used during the treatment of some lung conditions.
If your doctor suspects you have lung disease, or needs to treat your current lung problem, you may need a test called bronchoscopy. A bronchoscope is a device that lets your doctor see the inside of your lungs. The scope, or tube, is passed through your mouth or nose, through your windpipe, then into your lungs. Your doctor may use a rigid or flexible scope. If your doctor uses a rigid scope, you will be asleep and pain free. If you have flexible bronchoscopy, you will be awake. Your doctor will spray a numbing liquid drug in your mouth and throat. Sometimes, tiny brushes, needles, or forceps are passed through the scope. This lets your doctor take a tissue sample from your lungs. But don’t worry, it won’t hurt! You may have a bronchoscopy to help your doctor diagnose a lung problem. Common reasons for this test are lung growths, lymph node inspection, or other changes that your doctor needs to see. You may have this test if you are coughing up blood or have a possible foreign object in your airway. Infections in the lung and an unexplained cough that’s been going on for more than 3 months are other good reasons to get this test. Bronchoscopy can help your doctor diagnose many lung diseases, including infections from bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, or tuberculosis. It can also help find lung inflammation from allergic-type reactions and help diagnose lung cancer or other lung diseases. What’s more, bronchoscopy can also be used to actually treat lung problems. It can help your doctor remove fluid from your airways, widen a blocked or narrow airway, drain an abscess, or treat cancer. While you have a bronchoscopy, you will lose your gag reflex because of the numbing medicine they use. But don’t worry. It will return shortly after the procedure, so don’t drink or eat anything until it does. However, there is a significant risk of choking if you swallow anything BEFORE the numbing medicine wears off.
A bronchoscope is a device used to see the inside of the airways and lungs. The scope can be flexible or rigid. A flexible scope is almost always used. It is a tube less than a half inch (1 centimeter) wide and about 2 feet (60 centimeters) long. In rare cases, a rigid bronchoscope is used.
The scope is passed through your mouth or nose through your windpipe (trachea) and into your lungs. Going through the nose is a good way to look at the upper airways. Going through the mouth allows your health care provider to use a larger bronchoscope. If a flexible bronchoscope is used, you will probably be awake but sedated. During the procedure:
Follow instructions on how to prepare for the test. You will likely be told:
Usually, the test is done as an outpatient procedure and you will go home the same day. Some people may need to stay overnight in the hospital.
Local anesthetic is used to relax and numb your throat muscles. Until this medicine begins to work, you may feel fluid running down the back of your throat. This may cause you to cough or gag.
Once the medicine takes effect, you may feel pressure or mild tugging as the tube moves through your windpipe. Although you may feel like you are not able to breathe when the tube is in your throat, there is no risk of this happening. The medicines you receive to relax will help with these symptoms. You will likely forget most of the procedure.
When the anesthetic wears off, your throat may be scratchy for several days. After the test, your ability to cough (cough reflex) will return in 1 to 2 hours. You will not be allowed to eat or drink until your cough reflex returns.
You may have a bronchoscopy to help your provider diagnose lung problems. Your provider will be able to inspect your airways or take a biopsy sample.
Common reasons to do a bronchoscopy for diagnosis are:
You may also have a bronchoscopy to treat a lung or airway problem. For example, it may be done to:
Normal results mean normal cells and fluids are found. No foreign substances or blockages are seen.
Many disorders can be diagnosed with bronchoscopy, including:
Main risks of bronchoscopy are:
There is also a small risk of:
Risks when general anesthesia is used include:
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Kupeli E, Feller-Kopman D, Mehta AC. Diagnostic bronchoscopy. In: Broaddus VC, Mason RJ, Broaddus VC, Martin TR Ernst JD, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 22.
Scanlon PD. Respiratory function: mechanisms and testing. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 85.
Last reviewed on: 1/30/2016
Reviewed by: Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.